Chinese Next-Gen Spacecraft Lands After Orbital Flight

A Chinese next-generation crewed spacecraft landed on Friday after a nearly three-day automated flight in Earth orbit.

Pictures from Chinese media showed the capsule descending under three parachutes. The vehicle had made a high-speed reentry from a final orbit of 523 x 6,278 km (325 x 3,901 miles) to simulate a return from deep space.

The new spacecraft, which will carry up to six astronauts, is intended to replace the three-seat Shenzhou spaceship now in use. China will use the new vehicle for operations in Earth and lunar orbit.

A Long March 5B launched the spacecraft into Earth orbit on Tuesday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. It was the maiden flight of Long March 5 variant, which will be used to launch elements of China’s first permanent space station next year.

Long March 5B has a core stage with four strap-on boosters. It lacks the upper stage of the Long March 5, which is used to send communications satellites to geosynchronous orbit and probes to the moon and planets.

China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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First Long March-7 Shipped to New Spaceport

Video Caption: China’s new-generation medium-sized rocket, Long March-7, departed Tianjin port for a launch center in south China’s Hainan Province on Sunday.

The rocket is expected to arrive at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in mid-May and make its maiden flight in late June to test a variety of performance indicators.

Fueled by an environmentally-friendly propellant, the Long March-7 has a launch capacity of 13.5 tonnes in low-Earth orbit and 5.5 tonnes in Sun-synchronous orbit.

“After a final assembly test before it was moved out of plant, the rocket is in good condition now. And the sea condition is also good for transport,” said Hu Xiaojun, deputy chief designer of Long March-7 project with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, a main contractor for China’s space program.

The Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, China’s fourth and southernmost space vehicle launch facility, will launch new-generation carrier rockets and space station modules.
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